Book Review

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday Books | Genre: Fantasy

Morgenstern has created a tale out of tales, a fable out of the human need to seek and explain, to dream and understand. Zachary's story is closely connected to an array of beautiful stories/myths that focus on the unique ability to make the impossible possible. Each door leads to another step (but is it really a step forward...?), each character is a puzzle piece that can acquire multiple places on the board.

Title: The Starless Sea

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday Books

Genre: Fantasy

First Publication: 2019

Major Characters: Zachary Ezra Rawlins, Mirabel, Dorian

Theme: Interconnected Stories, Belief, Friendship

Setting: New England, 2015 (United States); Manhattan, New York City, New York, 2015 (United States)

Narrator: Third person


Book Summary: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately.”

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for.

Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.

Book Review - The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea is the most whimsical, magical and weirdest book I’ve ever read. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, Neverwhere, Caraval and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender all rolled into one with its own strange plot. It was fantasy, it was fairy tale, and was expertly written with a beautiful story and memorable characters.

The plot is similar to that of the books I mentioned in my opening paragraph but unlike those ones this is my unique because of its prose. The Starless Sea is a magical underground library where the doors to the place are in the most inconspicuous of places. You need to believe there is something more to it before the door will open for you and lead you to the Starless Sea. Zachery first discovered it as a child but didn’t believe enough to try and open the door. Now as an adult he has a second chance but there is organisation that aims to destroy all the doors that leads to the Starless Sea.

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a book in his university library that has an odd history. What is even stranger, is that he is in it. There was a door, when he was a child, that he did not open, and hence did not find his way to the Starless Sea. At least not yet. Zachary is pulled into a world of literary fantasy looking for a place that may not exist, and a world that some are trying to keep hidden away. He is looking for the rest of his story. Along the way he meets Dorian and Mirabelle, who become his companions and saviours, and have stories of their own to tell.

It wasn’t just Zachary’s story that was so beautiful. Interspersed between chapters were excerpts from the books he has been reading; Sweet Sorrows, Fortunes and Fables, The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor. Each filled with fairy tales and people outside of time, and each bringing something to the story as well as being fantastic in their own right. The story about the sun and moon meeting at an inn in the snow was my personal favourite.

“Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets.”

Starless Sea is the best execution of a book within a book that I have ever read. It’s not only a book within a book but stories within stories. I spent the first 40% of reading this book torn between confusion, annoyance and enjoyment. This book wrung the above emotions from me. Lots of stories was going on at the same time. The only constant was that of Zachery Ezra Rawlins who is the protagonist. So even though I did not understand the other stories I know exactly what was happening to him.

This book features lots of themes but the major is believe, to believe in the impossible. The friendship here is also admirable, the romance in this book is amazing. There was no build up whatsoever, it just crept up on me, one moment they met the next thing I know they are in love. The  second theme in this book is love for books and story.

“But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.”

The characters in this book were numerous, it’s no surprise that my favourite character is Zachery Ezra Rawlins, he is a weird and queer guy, I really enjoyed reading his character development. Zachary Ezra Rawlins was the perfect protagonist, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching his story from beginning to the very end, to see if he would indeed grace the shores of the Starless Sea and get his happy ending. Dorian, Mirabel and Kat were also good characters even though Kat was only in the beginning and ending of the book.

I like the writing style, most of the book was written in Zachery’s point of view but the book within the book was narrated by an unknown narrator. Though it was easy to understand, it was a bit confusing because there was no relationship with the main plot at first but that changed when the main plot started showing connections to the story within the story. I love how the author connected it all. All of the passages, the stories, weave together so perfectly. It must have taken so long for actually put this story together. The imagery is just phenomenal. Everything described in such vivid detail, especially when it came to the Harbour.

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